Robert of Anjou, a wise king on the throne of Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

Often the is not valued enough medieval history of Naples. but yet Robert of Anjou was one of the most famous and fascinating monarchs in our history: without him we would not have Santa Chiara and Castel Sant'Elmo, for example.
And not only. Roberto deeply loved her culture, so much to invite to Naples legendary artists how Petrarch and Boccaccio, passing through Giotto, Simone Martini and Tino da Camaino.

In addition to his many merits, however, there is also a mysterious page: the king was considered a real one master of philosophy and divination arts. Not surprisingly, in fact, it was nicknamed "the wise".

miniatura roberto d'angiò
A miniature depicting Roberto d'Angiò, national museum of Florence

The war between Naples and Sicily

In 1287, the year in which Robert of Anjou was born, Southern Italy was in deep crisis. The Swabian dynasty had ended in a bloodbath after the battle of Tagliacozzo and the beheading of the child Corradino, killed at the age of 16 a Market Square. It was at that moment that he came Charles of Anjou in the city (which today is remembered with a statue in the Royal Palace), to conquer a privileged place in the heart of the Mediterranean.

Roberto was the third Angevin king of Naples. He was born in Santa Maria Capua Vetere (precisely Torre Sant'Erasmo), but almost all of his childhood passed away from his reign, since it was captured by Ferdinand III of Aragon It is held prisoner in Catalonia. Then, once freed, he remained for a long time in Provence to win back the lost territories in France.

The Aragonese, of Catalan origin, and the Angevins, of French origin, they both looked with interest to the Kingdom of Sicily and for twenty years there was a war without quarter between the two houses, which ended with the Peace of Caltabellotta and the division between the Angevin kingdom "on this side of the lighthouse(with Naples as capital) and Aragonese "beyond the lighthouse (with Palermo as capital). It was the year 1302 and the Aragones would have waited another century before finally putting their hands on Naples. Meanwhile Roberto was crowned in 1309 as king of Naples and, from that moment, he worked to make Southern Italy an important reality in the politics of Europe.

Roberto d'Angiò, un re saggio sul trono di Napoli

A wise and controversial king

Roberto loved culture and, according to historians, was also a good administrator of Naples. It was even compared to King Solomon. Given the vastness of his kingdom and the difficulty of communication between the various regions, Roberto was very good at leaving it to his wife Sancia broad powers of government over some territories of the kingdom, as well as he often entrusted himself to other relatives to manage the affairs of the territory. He was particularly attentive to Piedmont and to central-northern Italy, which at the time was an Angevin province governed by Naples.

We recall that it was the Angions who named Naples the capital of the Kingdom, since they identified the city as a perfect point of communication with the rest of Italy, while Palermo it was excessively far from European events.

Miniatura giostra
Roberto D'Angiò (in blue) challenging the Duke of Burgundy in a medieval joust. Miniature from the 15th century.

Over 280 sermons and countless books are attributed to the king of Naples, many addressed to the Pope himself. His library is cited by many scholars of the time and is testimony of an immense cultural openness: texts of the Muslim philosopher Averroes, as it is said that it was frequented by many Jewish scholars. More generally it is said that Robert of Anjou loved to study and discuss philosophy with the intellectuals present at his court.

There was, however, a contemporary of his own did not love him. We are talking about Dante, who defined him, summing up the concept with modern words, a man "all talk and distinctive". The Supreme Poet was contrary to the political tendencies of the Angevins of Naples.

Incoronazione Roberto d'Angiò
Coronation of Robert of Anjou, National Museum of Capodimonte

A king who loves the occult

During the Middle Ages, despite the many clichés that paint it as a dark age, there was a great fascination towards esotericism. And Robert of Anjou, who was a man of great culture, was deeply fascinated by him. His court was frequented by magicians and alchemists and he himself loved to study subjects not at all related to the doctrines of the Church, which in the Middle Ages was the power that controlled the equilibrium of all of Europe.

It was said about him that he even had visions of the future and that he could read cards. There is a document of Jean Froissart, one of the most important French historians of the Middle Ages, who tells of how Robert of Anjou was often summoned by other rulers of Europe to read the future. In the specific case, he said that "if the king of France had fought against the king of England, he would certainly have been defeated". A prediction perhaps even a bit biased, if you think that Edward III of England was her grandson.

The reporter tells us that, in fact, Philip VI chose the retreat in battle despite an overwhelming numerical superiority.

For Naples the relationship with magic is nothing new. One could start from the legends that surround it Virgil and get to the mysterious Mausoleum Schilizzi, without forgetting the incredible Cloister of the Incurables. Everything always has its mysterious and esoteric side.
Before Roberto he thought about it Frederick II of Swabia to summon magicians, alchemists and other characters from the world of occult studies to court. But, you know, Federico was a character completely out of the box: no wonder this news.
In the case of Roberto, however, his presence was also very welcome to the Pope, with whom he always had excellent relations and frequent exchanges of letters. This "occult" side of the Angevin king is therefore even more surprising.

Roberto d'Angiò, un re saggio sul trono di Napoli
Castel Sant'Elmo, Angevin inheritance

The legacy of Robert of Anjou

Even today we walk in the Angevin Naples, even if a good part of the medieval city was destroyed during the Renovation.
The "signature" that the king left in the city, however, is indelible: on the one hand just look up to find Sant'Elmo Castle, on top of the Vomero. At the time it was called Sant'Erasmo hill and the first official documents tell us that Roberto "the wise" ordered the construction of one fortification on the top of the hill, where previously there was a small Norman observation tower. The work was entrusted to Tino da Camaino.

morte Roberto d'Angiò
The death of Robert of Anjou

Also there wife, Sancia de Mallorca, left his mark: he founded the first orphanage in Europe in 1343, the Annunciation. Then he spent his life in a convent. Likewise, a unique event happened in the history of Naples: Roberto's heir was the first woman on the throne of Castel Nuovo: Giovanna I.

Below, in the heart of the historic center, the green roof of the church of Santa Chiara, which was always built on the orders of the Angevin king.

Just Santa Chiara then became the home of all Neapolitan rulers: still today there is the tomb of Robert of Anjou which rests near the tombs of Ferdinand II of Bourbon and all his family, combining 400 years of city history under one roof that only the bombs of World War II were capable of destroying.

-Federico Quagliuolo

sepolcro Roberto d'Angiò a Santa Chiara
The tomb of Robert of Anjou in Santa Chiara, before the destruction of the church


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